Published on 3rd October 2021
A Different Aspect #65 – Book Special
In this book-centric ADA update we feature:
• Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi – Medical Grade Music
• Hamish Kuzminski – Camel: Every Album, Every Song (On Track)
• Kevan Furbank – Gong: Every Album, Every Song (On Track)
A hugely enjoyable journey through the formative musical obsessions of fringe music’s very own Odd Couple (Mr Davis is Oscar, obviously), complete with a nicely nerdy list of music recommendations, based on the original idea for the book, which was intended as a way in to the obscure musical world the two of them inhabit. They would do a precis of 52 albums each that they thought were entry points into each chosen artists’ oeuvre.
It soon became apparent that this was as unwieldy and academically dry as it sounds, so instead those 104 albums are relegated to two lists at the back of the book. Have fun counting up how many you own. My total was 18 of Kavus’, and only 11 of Steve’s. This surprises me as being roughly the same age as the former cue champ, I thought my tastes would be more attuned to his than to the 14-years younger Kavus Torabi. Boy, does Steve like some weird shit! I can see my wallet being deflated if I look too long at those lists.
Ditching the list format and going for a “rite of passage via music” route makes the book far more readable. When you see the two of them together, Kavus’ irrepressible enthusiasm often means he will dominate an interview, while Steve adopts the Zen-like calm of the wise old uncle, with his occasional pithy interjections. In the book they get equal billing, in fact, if anything, Steve is the more verbose.
Steve’s musical coming of age is similar to mine, until punk came along, which he swerved by veering off into obscure soul music and a big vinyl collecting habit, not returning to (very) loosely rock-based sounds until much later. Kavus on the other hand, being so much younger, has an unfamiliar journey to this reader, which makes it all the more fascinating. How the two of them met, to becoming radio DJs, and then gigging DJs, and then bandmates in the wonderfully outré The Utopia Strong, is a tale as humorous as it is unlikely.
The format is a chapter of Steve followed by a chapter of Kavus, etc, and the contrast in their characters is evident in their writing styles. I won’t give anything away here, but I will tell you that Steve swears a lot more than Kavus. It’s his age, you see. I know. As Steve says, “You don’t get to be world champion at something without being slightly unhinged”.
All in all, an enjoyable read, and recommended not just to fans of the two mavericks, but to anyone with an interest in the threads of Rock’s Rich Tapestry.
“After all, it was called progressive rock for a reason, even if the vast majority of new stuff that now claims the title is about as progressive as an episode of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” – Steve Davis.
Starting out a few years ago, Sonicbond Publishing now have a catalogue of dozens of books looking at the work of a wide range of bands, from pop to the heavier end of the spectrum. The On Track and Decades series continue to expand at an invigorating rate and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the progressive realm is rich pickings, the artists’ entire oeuvres investigated in full with a career overview to put it all into context.
Hamish Kuzminski’s On Track volume on Camel is a welcome addition to the series for me, having been a huge Camel fan since teenage days (just in time to miss the Stationary Traveller tour 🙁 ). Hamish, another long-term fan, discusses the merits (and otherwise) of all of the albums released under the Camel name, discussing each track in a readable and warm style that keeps the reader involved. Personal viewpoints from the author are included, which is interesting as while frequently intersecting with this reader’s, the divergences lead to many an internal talking point.
The foreword from Steve Rothery is proudly stated on the cover, adding a sense of approval, and the author references conversations with Andy Latimer and Colin Bass, but these seem to have been fairly cursory and don’t add a great deal to the narrative, which relies fairly heavily on the Curriculum Vitae DVD from 2003. I would have liked a bit more detail on the band’s history to tie the albums together, to understand more of the trials and tribulations often faced in their production, but it works as an overview.
Camel has remained a viable entity in recent years, thankfully so after Latimer’s well-documented health issues put the band on ice for a decade, and have returned to the stage with a new lease of life – including a career defining return to the Royal Albert Hall in 2018 – and this period is pleasingly covered. A more efficient style might have allowed the inclusion of more solo work and discussion of external activities, but that’s a small point and the book achieves in what it set out to do.
With images scattered throughout the text, it’s a recommended addition to the series including interesting facts whilst not being overloaded with detail, happily sending me back to play albums from the darker corners of Camel’s catalogue with renewed interest.
Sonicbond’s volume on Gong, by TPA’s own Kevan Furbank, is an excellent and humour-filled guide that does a fantastic job of tying the multitudinous threads of this most expansive oeuvre together.
I mean, fair play, having been a Gong novice to large swathes of their career, Kevan guided me through it all in an easy style that explained the intricacies whilst revelling in the music – and he isn’t afraid to point out where he feels the ball was dropped (or it just kinda floated away and evaporated or turned into a pineapple or whatever).
Each album is lovingly described in great detail and the arc of Daevid Allen’s career – and beyond – discussed with obvious love and enthusiasm.
Tellingly, the input of various Gong alumni past and present is woven into the text, adding real insight to the times and motivations, including Kavus Torabi, Mike Howlett, Graham Clark and Tim Blake. They give the book another dimension, as well as that tacit seal of approval, and you get the feeling that Allen would have approved. As Kevan says in the introduction, this book is a celebration of Gong, and in that it heartily succeeds. He also does a fine job corralling the spinoffs and off-shoots, with potted (pixie) personal introductions to the main protagonists.
The slew of live recordings are discussed, and there are sections covering Pierre Moerlen’s version of the band and Mother Gong, and a barrage of other formations and albums from the expanded universe that I’ve never even heard of. It’s a mind-boggling amount of stuff to get your head around so Kevan deserves the plaudits for containing it all so effectively.
Overall an intoxicating read for the Gong fanatic and newbie alike, capable of leading you down any number of unexpected wormholes.
Now, where did I park my teapot?